(AP) Dayne Crist is in a hurry. He’d better be, that’s what Notre Dame’s new spread offense demands of its quarterback. No time to huddle, not even on the first day of practice. Take the snap and make a play.
Under first-year coach Brian Kelly, the Irish are speeding things up. Crist is in the middle of it all, at the control of an offense that is based on reaction and variety.
Crist will have to be able to make split-second reads in a system that will give him options: keep the ball, pitch it, hand it off or throw it. And as the successor to Jimmy Clausen, Crist also must do something else for Notre Dame to be a winner this fall – stay healthy.
Crist appeared in just four games last year as Clausen’s backup and in a game against Washington State at San Antonio last October, he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. After surgery, he came back faster than expected and was able to participate in spring drills, where he learned just how much he will have to do in Kelly’s spread offense.
Kelly said the knee is no longer an issue, and his quarterback is in agreement.
“I’m worlds ahead of where I was from a confidence standpoint from spring to now,” Crist said Saturday after Notre Dame’s first practice of the preseason.
“Structurally and physically and strengthwise I think everything has exceeded where we wanted to be.”
Kelly wants Crist to keep working on moving his feet and getting the ball off, crucial elements to running a spread offense. His quarterback already has leadership abilities and has made great progress from the spring in learning what he needs to do.
“I’ve seen Dayne personally get better and mature and understand the role he has to take on,” said fifth-year offensive lineman Chris Stewart.
Being the starter is not a feeling Crist has experienced since his high school days back in Change Park, Calif. Now he’s the quarterback at Notre Dame, a position that thrusts him in the spotlight of college football and makes him the leader of the team.
Crist is already known for his off-field charitable endeavors, including recruiting teammates to shave their heads and raise money to fight childhood cancer last season.
“Realizing that nothing is given, I’ve got to go out and earn every rep I have with the ones. And that won’t change,” he said, welcoming the leadership role.
“I think it’s definitely something that needs to be done as the quarterback at Notre Dame. I’m flattered guys think that of me, it means a lot. … Just trying to do everything to get guys to come along with you and make sure we’re staying on track.”
In his career, Crist has attempted just 20 passes, completing 10 for 130 yards with a TD and an interception. All coming last season.
And Crist wasn’t crisp at times during spring ball but a summer of workouts has him ready for what is ahead.
“I think everything Dayne did in the spring needs to be speeded up,” offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Charley Molnar said.
“Some of the things Dayne couldn’t do as well were probably limitations caused by his knee and the recovery and maybe a lack of confidence he had in it. Now Dayne has to be able to go full speed as hard as he can and not think about his knee or his limitations and have an eye on the defense and go through his progressions and do this thing with a free mind.”
Crist’s backups are even more inexperienced. They are untested Nate Montana – son of former Notre Dame and NFL great Joe Montana – and freshmen like Andrew Hendrix, Luke Massa and Tommy Rees.
That competition will play out, as well. But it’s no secret that the Irish must keep Crist healthy if the Kelly era is to get off to a fast start.
“I’ve never coached scared. We’re going to be aggressive on offense. But we got to be smart with him as well,” Kelly said.
“We probably can’t run him 22 to 23 times in a game. If we do, you know, we probably got some issues because he’s running around for his life. So I think it’s important that we don’t play scared but we have to be really cognizant of the fact that we’re inexperienced at that next man in.”
Notes: WR Duval Kamara, who has 75 career receptions, had incomplete paperwork and didn’t practice, Kelly said. He’s supposed to have it taken care of by Monday.
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